Jo Ashburner Farr talks to us about her social enterprise, how she got started, the best thing about being a social entrepreneur and more.
What does your social enterprise do?
Textile goods manufacturing, custom flagmakers (www.reddragonflagmakers.co.uk), ROOF coatbag (www.roofcoatbag.wales) and short order manufacturing for other brands.
What made you start your business up?
Years of experience in the manufacturing sector and a wish to transfer knowledge with a niche product to a dying sector in my home country and create jobs and a demand for the skills we train.
How do you measure your impact?
By the increase in turnover of the sales of our great products which enable us to train and employ more people, taken from outside the mainstream employment routes.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
Wales Coop and WCVA (Wales Council for Voluntary Action) gave us help with the paperwork and procedures, the rest was down to willpower, a supportive family and fast learning.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
With the help of the WCVA who listened to what I wanted to achieve and advised on the best format to take forward.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Standing out from the crowd with the unique perspective of having a moral compass integrated into the business rather than a PR opportunity with no substance. We don’t do fur coat no knickers, we really are mavericks in leading the way on what we believe is the best business model for the survival of the local economies.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
We have a great product first and deliver on a social mission second. We learned early on that if we didn't have a high end quality niche product to deliver we wouldn't have a business let alone a social mission led enterprise.
Social enterprises are wrongly partitioned into the third sector which has a third rate appeal to those who don’t understand what it is we do.
We don’t like being categorised with companies who rely on grants and public money subsidies – which by the way we have never had.
We view the challenge of being seen as mavericks and trailblazers a positive not negative one!
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Go talk to someone you trust and listen to what they have to say. Its like having a child – everyone is an expert but until you actually do what it is you’ve set out to do you’ll never know how to react or plan or do it at all. It’s a new sector – blaze your own trail and don’t be afraid of risk.
What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
In Wales, the Wales Cooperative Centre and WCVA for sure. Social Enterprise UK is there to support with training and registration but it is a very England-centric organisation who do a great job but sometimes forget that the west of the UK might have opportunities.
Subscribe to Pioneers Post and seek out people who can share their experiences and help you create your own.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
To continue the growth of our business and train and employ more people as we grow. We’re currently piloting an Apprenticeship in manufacturing sewn products in Wales which we helped build - the first of its kind - which will launch in September 2019 and we’re working full time on our ROOF Initiative to up skill and employ displaced and homeless persons and get them into their own homes and off the streets.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index, sponsored by UBS, is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.
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